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Padre Steve’s Year in Review

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Well it has been a year, well almost a year unless your are like in Australia when you read this.

As Charles Dickens’ wrote, “it was the best of times” and depending who you are or where you live it could have been one, the other or both. For me it has been one of those, not that there is anything wrong with that.

But really, look at the past year, personally it has been a mixed bag for me, in the end the plusses outweigh the minuses but what can I say? Great job, back with my wife, complete PTSD meltdown, being nearly suicidal for a while, but in the end a trip to Oktoberfest, the Orioles win the AL East, the Giants win the World Series and I’m doing better. On the other hand a whole lot of people are not doing better in a lot of places in the world. I’ve written about some of the events of the year as they affected me. Not all of them would be major, but hey, this was my year. If I had a song that described the year it would be Barry Manilow’s Trying to get the Feeling Again”

On January 6th I lost a man who had shown compassion and empathy for me, Captain Tom Sitsch, US Navy retired. Captain Sitsch was a true hero who worked his way up throughout the ranks in the Navy Explosive Ordinance Demolition community, made many combat deployments and suffered untreated PTSD and TBI. He took his own life. It was a sobering time for me, as he was one of the few people who showed much compassion for me when I was falling apart in the summer of 2008. He asked me “where does a chaplain go for help?” The best I can remember was that I told him not to other chaplains or clergy. I had no idea what he was going through and after he left the Navy under a cloud in 2009 I lost contact with him. His death brought me back into contact with men I had served with and who had served with him. I wrote about that a number of times as it was such a shattering event. I wish I had known and could have been there for him. The first article I wrote about that was on January 7th and can be found here: Rest In Peace Captain Tom Sitsch USN

February was a month of reflection on the sixth anniversary of my return from Iraq, the Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia and a time of intense preparation for my first journey to Gettysburg leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the Joint Forces Staff College. It also was a month where we began to see the tip of the iceberg of the attempt of some Christians in Kansas to enshrine  religious intolerance in law, that article A Matter of Degree: The Taliban, Kansas, Jim Crow and Nuremberg really pissed some people off.

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I wrote a reflection about the long strange trip back from Iraq in this article The Long Strange Trip: Six Years After Returning from Iraq

In March Russia pulled off its occupation of Ukraine and Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared from the face of the earth. I also led my first trip to Gettysburg and really began to sink my teeth into writing about the battle as well as many other components of the American Civil War, including the politics, ideology, economic and religious aspects of the war. But for the most enduring mystery was the disappearance of MH-370. I ended up writing a “conspiracy theory” about it, which because it hasn’t been proven wrong could possibly be right, if not maybe the basis of a great terrorism novel. That article is here  My Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370 Conspiracy Theory

April was the beginning of baseball season, the end of Lent, Holy Week and more work on a lot of history. I wrote about civil rights, Jackie Robinson, and a whole series on a Roman Centurion in Jerusalem during the first Holy Week. I also took on former half-term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin in this article  War Crimes are Us: I Want No Part of Sarah Palin’s Torture Loving Christianity But it was an interesting time because I was asked to do an interview about my struggle with PTSD for the Washington Times. The article about that is here Not the Cover of the Rolling Stone but the Front Page: Padre Steve Featured in Washington Times article on PTSD

In May I took another group of students to Gettysburg and did a lot more writing about that subject as well as the subject of Memorial Day. But an event occurred that caused me to reflect on the way Christians often use the power of religion in attempts to silence or shame others who are in pain. That came after I had an experience trying to get help in the Navy Mental Health system and because of how I was treated began to implode all over again. That article is here: Frightened by Christians. I also did a fair amount of reflecting on the sacrifice of others in articles about Memorial Day, including this one “The Offering We Bring…” Remembering the First Memorial Day

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In June my struggle continued and was intensified by the collapse of Iraqi forces as ISIL swept into Iraq, overrunning many of the places I had served in Al Anbar province. Looking back at all that I wrote about other subjects that month I am amazed. I wrote about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which triggered the events leading to the outbreak of World War I in this article A Wrong Turn, a Holy Cause and Two Bullets: The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand But here is the first article that I wrote about the collapse of the Iraqi forces and reflected on all the history that we should have paid attention to in 2003 The Results of Ignoring History: The Implosion of Iraq as well as my own reflection of my time there and hope for better Inshallah Iraq (إن شاء الله) Maybe Someday things will be Better

In July I did a lot more work on Gettysburg as I got ready to take another group there in August. I reflected on Iraq, PTSD, the Declaration of Independence and in my work on Gettysburg and Civil War issues I wrote this article about some of the similarities that I see in some Tea Party ideology and that of the ante-bellum South, the Confederacy and Jim Crow. That article is here Parallels between Tea Party Ideology and the Ante-Bellum South I took another stab at the situation in Iraq in this article Iraq, ISIS and Al Qaeda: Sowing the Wind…  and this about the moral responsibility of a nation at war to those that it sends to fight its wars  “You Broke it, You Bought It” The Responsibility of a Nation at War and Broken and Unlikely to Get Better: Military Mental Health Care

In August I led another trip to Gettysburg, and I reflected on a number of subjects, but as I was struggling so much after my collapse in May I decided to write a number of new articles about PTSD, Suicide and the military mental health care system. Here are two of them No Shutting Up Until it is Fixed: Veteran and Military Mental Health Care and  Moral Injury: Betrayal, Isolation, Suicidality, & Meaninglessness; the War after the War But I also ventured into the initial police reaction in Ferguson Missouri in the article The Misuse of Force: Shock and Awe Backfires in Ferguson But one of my favorite articles to write was this one on the Gettysburg Address, something that I always find important to reflect upon Reembracing the New Birth of Freedom

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In September I made pilgrimage to Oktoberfest. However I ventured into the discussion of the new, old kind of war that we are facing again, that of religious ideology and war without mercy. That article is here Wars Without Mercy: The New Old Way of War and The Islamic State and the New, Old Nature of War

In October, of course I continued to write about Gettysburg and the Civil War, baseball and the World Series, and was inducted into my High School’s Hall of Fame, which was a great honor. But I decided to tackle some of the religious ideologues who are actively engaged in the political process and did an article about Senator Ted Cruz’s father Rafael Cruz. That is here: Rafael Cruz and the Dangerous Heresy of the Self-Annointed

In November I made my final trip for the last academic year to Gettysburg and had the honor of meeting a real hero, retired Army Colonel Walter Marm, who won the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Ia Drang, a battle made famous by the movie We Were Soldiers that reflection is here: Return from Gettysburg: Table Talk and Meeting a Hero

December was another big month, the Senate Report on the CIA torture program was released much to the chagrin of the program’s most ardent supporters including a host of “Christian” leaders. I decided to take them on in this article Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

Those are just some of the highlights. I wrote about so many other things as well, and I invite you to browse the site. Like I said, all things considered I am surprised I have been so productive this year. So anyway, thank you so much for reading what I put out, for sharing it and for your wonderful comments and encouragement. So I’ll wish you well and if I don’t get anything else done later today I wish you all a happy and blessed New Year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, PTSD

Prisoners of Hate

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“Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

I read something this week that struck me. A couple of nights ago I was continuing to read Randy Shilts’ book about the beginning of the AIDS crisis. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. As I did so I was struck by a single sentence “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

In the book, Shilts, a journalist and author, discussed the impact of hatred on people. The part of the book I was reading  was about the release from prison of Dan White, the San Francisco city councilman who murdered the legendary Gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on January 7th 1984.

Shilts reflected on how that reciprocal hatred between White, his supporters, and the Gay community harmed all. Back then Gays were angry about how a man who murdered two other men in cold blood and got off on a ludicrous defense based on White’s consumption of Hostess Twinkies.  That anger was compounded by how many Gays felt about the AIDS epidemic, which at the time the cause was still unknown.  When White was released, angry Gays protested, some even calling for White’s death. White was out of prison but he was a prisoner of his actions, he killed himself a number of months later. Shilts noted in his book that: “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.” At the time neither the Gay community, nor its detractors could get around the hate.

When I read the quote I was struck with just how timeless it was. The fact is that though Shilts was discussing something the Gay community was experiencing in 1984, it can be applied in almost every instance where there is anger about real or perceived injustice.

In the past couple of months we have seen the anger of the African American community towards law enforcement in the case of Michael Brown and other instances where police killed unarmed blacks and suffered no legal repercussions. While most protestors were peaceful, some were not.

Last week black man traveled from Baltimore to New York boosting on instagram that he was going to put wings on police. Baltimore police attempted to warn New York, but by the time the message arrived the man had brutally murdered two New York City Police Officers as sat in their patrol car. Before he left Baltimore he shot his girlfriend. The man had a long history of criminal behavior, belonged to a prison gang that advocated killing police and had a long history of severe mental illness. However, because he was black and because he had publicized why he was going to kill the officers, the protestors and other critics of police who abuse their authority were blamed for causing the action.

Since then the invective has only increased, despite the efforts of people, mainly those who support the protestors to scale back the rhetoric and seek reconciliation. Sadly, it only seems to get worse, especially from those who seek to only see one side of the problem and blame one group. I have a military physician friend who wrote something on her social media page that I agree very much with:

“I support police officers and first responders. I also support equal rights and believe discrimination based upon race, creed gender, sexuality, etc. is wrong. Am I allowed to support both these now-a-day?”

A week or so ago I asked a similar question. I have been in the military the bulk of my life and I have a strong affinity to those who put themselves in harms way be they in the military, law enforcement, fire, rescue, EMS or other first responders. At the same time I also know that not everyone in those organizations are law-abiding, and some harbor terrible prejudice against people whose race, religion, social or economic status, or lifestyle they oppose. Sadly some of them use the power they have been entrusted with to persecute or harm others and in many cases are never held accountable.

That being said I know that people who face very real prejudice, discrimination, inequity and persecution, including that of some in the law enforcement community grow angry and frustrated. Most remain peaceful, even in the use of civil disobedience, but even then they are often attacked or set upon by the very law enforcement agencies who are also supposed to serve and protect their rights as citizens. And some do lash out and cause harm to people and property.

Honestly I do not know what can be done at this point to change the direction that our society is heading. I wonder like my friend if it is possible to support law enforcement and at the same time ensure that they too obey the laws they are sworn to enforce, and the people they are sworn to serve. It was then that I remembered the words of Nelson Mandela. He said, reflecting on the 25 years that he was wrongly imprisoned by the Apartheid government of South Africa:  “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  

Maybe that is too idealistic for most of us today. Maybe we have become so embittered by what we see that we simple decide whoever disagrees with us must be at fault for everything. Today I noticed a comment on a post I had written about a military subject. The writer of the comment was definitely parroting everything that he listens to on the right wing media circuit, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and so many others, not to mention the allegedly “Christian” religious extremists who parrot them. The man wrote:

“Love the page. BTW there is nothing progressive about socialism. The “Progressives” in the USA are in fact socialists. It is regressive. There is nothing democratic about it either, it is top down dictatorial. There is no life liberty and pursuit of happiness when the people belong to the state. The Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, East Germany, Fascist Italy, Venezuela and even Nazi Germany (socialist workers party) are all good examples of where socialism leads. Lets not bring this kind of progressive to the USA.”

Of course this is complete hogwash and I politely but bluntly told him so.

However, his words came out of the same echo chamber that blamed peaceful protestors and their supporters for the deaths of the two New York police officers. Since on occasion I have gotten death threats and other lesser forms harassment from the most extreme elements of this right wing movement I am a bit sensitive to crap like this.

That being said I commit myself anew to the message Nelson Mandela because no matter what happens to me I do not want to be bound in the dungeons created by my the hate of others, or what hatred that on occasion that I might feel toward them. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

How do we get to where President Mandela or Dr. King believed was the true path to freedom? I think like both both of these men realized that it is about forgiveness, forgiveness even in the midst of injustice. As Dr. King said: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Such an attitude however requires genuine empathy, and sadly many people cannot feel empathy for others and as Captain Gustave Gilbert noted about what made the leaders of the Third Reich evil, wrote: “Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Sadly, that lack of empathy makes everyone a prisoner of hate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary

From the Ashes of Ferguson

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Last night I watched in horror as a community destroyed itself. I had hoped and prayed that no-matter what decision was reached that there would be no violence in Ferguson. But there was and it resulted in even more damage to an already scarred community.

The blame for this can be spread around because there are so many who share in it that it is almost overwhelming to think about. There are the actions of the individuals involved to include the dead teenager, Michael Brown and there are the actions of the man who killed him, Officer Darren Wilson.

If indeed Brown attacked Wilson, he shares some responsibility for his death. Wilson has a degree of responsibility even if he was acting without malice and reacted out of what he believed to be legitimate fear for his safety, simply because he pulled the trigger. Wilson basically testified that he acted out of fear, but the witness closest to the scene saw no such fear and stands by his story and there are critical discrepancies in the transcripts of what he said to police investigators and what he testified to in the grand jury.

I know many police officers and in most states what Officer Wilson did would have resulted in some sort of indictment, not necessarily a conviction but an indictment but Missouri state law gives the officer the benefit of all doubt. Howard Fineman noted today that “the Missouri state legislature has chosen repeatedly to ignore a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1985, which held that a police officer cannot use lethal force against a fleeing suspect unless the officer has reason to believe the suspect is armed and an immediate threat to public order.”

Instead, a police officer in Missouri can shoot a person the officer believes to be a fleeing felon. Period. Not to mention that the officer can shoot one who is moving toward him in a threatening manner.”

The fact is that I have not yet read all of the testimony because there is so much being released. What I have read so far paints a picture that could be interpreted very differently than was the decision of the grand jury dealing with the death of Michael Brown and the actions of Officer Wilson.

I am going to try to over the weekend to instead of letting pundits tell me what to believe, to read what was presented to the grand jury. Likewise from what I know of grand jury proceedings as well as probable cause hearings, it is almost unheard of for a grand jury at state, local or federal level not to return an indictment. Prosecutors generally don’t lose at a grand jury hearing. It almost seems to be that the prosecutor here did not try to get an indictment. That to me just seems fishy.

That being said, as a historian I know that all of the accounts presented, even those of the people who believed that they were being absolutely honest in their accounts, are subject to distortion, and not being completely true.

I will do this because my first duty as a citizen is to the truth, even if it challenges what we believe. I support the police, I know many officers, some white, some African American, some of whom that serve in incredibly dangerous communities. I give those that put themselves in harm’s way incredible leeway and discretion in the conduct of their duties. That being said police officers are human too, they are capable of having and acting upon the same prejudices and committing crimes, even while on duty, or of being subject to fear, and making mistakes, mistakes that sometimes result in tragedy.

Likewise there are the actions and inactions of the police and local government bodies to build trust in the community. In many places, especially in the historic states that belonged to the ante-Bellum South, including border states like Missouri many communities refuse to admit a problem, much less take actions to mitigate it.

There is a lack of standardization and training among police forces to train officers to deal with situations like the one that occurred between Wilson and Brown that night without resorting to deadly force. This is often a systemic problem brought about by fear, prejudice and lack of training in means other than the use of deadly force to subdue a threat.

But on the other hand there are the actions of criminal elements and others who use tragedies such as what happened in this case, who justify burning and looting the homes and businesses of their neighbors. These people are just as responsible for the tragedy of Ferguson, a tragedy that they used to bring unwarranted suffering to their neighbors.

There are the actions of the politicians, pundits and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” who use events like this to whip their followers into a rage in order to maintain their power. There are the actions of outside forces, including extremist groups including the KKK, other White Supremacist groups as well as the New Black Panthers who have used the event to talk up violence.

There are the media agitators that allegedly support either the victim or the police officer who work other whip people across the nation into factions who hate each other. Much of this has been facilitated by the recklessness of people in the media, and officials in government who spread rumors, partial facts, and speculation as near gospel truth to sway the opinion of people to their point of view, the truth be damned.

This was compounded by the incompleteness of the initial police investigation which due to the incompetence of those conducting it resulted in the contamination of the crime scene that certainly had an effect on “the facts” that were presented to the grand jury.

Likewise there were some alleged eyewitnesses to the killing who gave one version of “facts” to the media or on their social media connections, only to recant, change or alter those statements when under oath, giving the grand jury members different information than they had to the public. Those who did such things share responsibility, for they have contributed to this.

That being said, there are other eyewitnesses who maintained their testimony and saw their testimony discounted by the grand jury in favor of the testimony of Officer Wilson. This is just some examples and the list can go on and on and on. There is also an endemic and systematic racism which remains ingrained in our society but few people want to acknowledge it.

To me as a historian it almost seems that the lack of acknowledgment is evidence that the racial attitudes of the ante-Bellum South as well as the Jim Crow era still reign supreme in our land. In fact those who even suggest that it might exist are labeled as racist by right wing politicians, pundits and preachers, especially the politically charged preachers.

It is an Orwellian world. When a man like Mike Huckabee, a man that wants to be President and who embodies all three parts of the Trinity of Evil, being a politician, preacher and pundit all wrapped in one, can label those who protested the killing of Michael Brown peacefully as the moral equivalent of the murderer of Medger Evers, something is seriously amiss.

We do need to address issues the of economic disparity, the problems in education, and the de-facto racial and economic segregation of many communities, problems often brought about by the intentional policies of local governments and economic institutions. We need to address the serious issues of racial, religious sexual, and sexual orientation discrimination, both real and perceived; and the issues of inequities in the criminal justice system, the breakdown of families and a host of other issues that fueled the rage that ignited the conflagration we witnessed in Ferguson.

But the bottom line is that a young man, Michael Brown is dead, a community destroyed and a nation divided. Michael Brown cannot be brought back to life, and even if he was complicit by his actions in his death, he did not deserve to die and the actions of the prosecutor and the grand jury not to indict Officer Wilson demonstrate to many that the life of a black teenager is of decidedly lesser value than a white man. Would that same grand jury allowed Officer Wilson to walk if he had killed an unarmed white teenager?

Sadly to one degree or another, this is our entire fault as citizens. At the minimum most of us no matter what our race or place on the political spectrum are complicit in how we allow the media and government to shape the truth and never critically examine the facts to separate them from the spin. Most people don’t take the time to wait for the facts before we make up our minds on an issue. Many people choose believe the worst about other people, especially those that we believe are “different” than us based on the words of the Trinity of Evil without ever taking the time to know or understand them.

Many people do not take the time to get to know our neighbors much less than the people on the other side of town who are different than us, those that are not in our social class, economic status, race, religion or culture. Egged on by politicians, pundits and preachers of hate that profit and keep power by spreading fear; we end up fearing those who are not like us.

Doctor King asked a question that all of us must ask today. He said:

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

We must break the chain of evil that leads to what we have been watching in Ferguson. It matters so much if we are to have true reconciliation. It matters if we are to be able to ask each other for forgiveness and admit our own responsibility for the state of our country. It matters if we are able to come together as Americans to overcome our divisions and build a better future. Nelson Mandela who suffered unjustly for years in the apartheid prisons of South Africa knew the reality of what has to be done to break the shackles of evil and walk into freedom. Mandela said:

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

But all of this takes serious soul searching and hard work on all of our part. The task will not be easy, but it was the dream of Doctor King who had a dream, a dream that I choose still to believe possible.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

I have faith to believe with Doctor King:

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

And I have the hope to believe the promise of Doctor King who in his “I have a dream” speech said:

“And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring! And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

Protests are still in order and should continue, but they should be absolutely peaceful and non-violent to maintain the moral high ground. These protests should continue until laws are changed, and justice done.

But protest alone cannot be the final measure, and violence is no solution and only makes things worse. There has to be a deliberate effort of all to bring reconciliation and to have a change in our own hearts. Nelson Mandela said:

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Mandela also said something that if things in this country are to change that all of us need to take to heart. He said:

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

Somehow, we as citizens, neighbors and must heed the words of Doctor King and Mr. Mandela if we are to rebuild the dream out of the ashes of Ferguson.

Like both of these men, I too am an optimist and I will work with my brothers to see the day when we are all really free at last.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Misuse of Force: Shock and Awe Backfires in Ferguson

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“When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.” Barbara Tuchman

Not Iraq, not Syria or the Ukraine, but Ferguson Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer was one of the most crass, unconscionable and violent over-reactions of a local government in the United States in years. When the peaceful protests began after the shooting Ferguson and St Louis County police deployed heavy weapons, armored vehicles and chemical weapons against the mainly peaceful protestors who simply sought answers and justice at yet another unjustified killing of a young black man by law enforcement.

The “shock and awe” displayed by the local police agencies had the opposite effect. Instead of defusing the crisis, it provoked violence, mainly from looters by also from young people fed up with police using tactics of fear and intimidation against citizens who have little opportunity. The economic and demographic inequities, including the de-facto segregation in Ferguson are stunning. Two thirds of the population is black and only one member of the city council and one member of the local school board are black. Likewise the police force in Ferguson is overwhelmingly white. It is almost like apartheid South Africa, but it is right here in the United States, and it’s not just a problem in Ferguson but in many other towns and cities in this nation.

After weeks of delay and after days of protests, demonstrations and riots, the Police Chief of Ferguson revealed the name of the officer who killed Brown. However, instead of discussing justice, or inviting an external investigation of the shooting the man took the time to praise and defend the officer and release surveillance video designed to demonize Brown in the eyes of the public. In fact there was no other reason to do it. It was designed to play in his narrative to smear a dead man, for the actions of his officer; and maybe, even more insidiously to possibly taint any jury pool that might have to sit in judgment on that officer. Now I believe in due process and that the officer is innocent until proven guilty, but the calculated actions of the Ferguson police chief were designed to convict a dead man who could not defend his own actions or reputation because his body had at been riddled by at least six bullets including two the to head. Now there may be mitigating circumstances that show that the officer felt that he was in danger, but still six bullets including two to the head.

No wonder instead of subsiding more protests, again mainly peaceful, but with some malicious actors as well have continued. One only has to look at what happened in Cairo’s Tahir Square at the beginning of the Arab Spring, or in Gaza to see why people risk their lives to face overwhelming militarized police forces or military forces deployed in such operations. There is a sense of inequity based on the proportionality of the forces used, and when that inequity becomes too great, revolutions occur.

Part of the problem is that police on every level have become extremely militarized. Local police departments only need to fill out a form to get the latest in surplus combat equipment from the military, thanks to policies enacted after the passage of the wonderfully Orwellian named Patriot Act. Once a department gets the new weaponry, why go back to the old way that police did things. In fact there is an almost a case of “penis envy” that local police departments have. If one department gets an armored MRAP or APC, then another, even if it has no legitimate use for one gets one. Instead of peacefully serving warrants by knocking on a door to confront a non-violent offender, it is time to deploy a platoon of tactical officers to do the same job.

Now I am not excusing looters, arsonists or other criminals that take advantage of unrest such as this to create havoc, and in fact many of the protestors attempted to keep businesses and other property safe from the criminals, even as they themselves were being targeted by the tear gas fired by police. Likewise the police arrested reporters and fired at other reporters covering the story. The reporters had every right to be there covering the protests and nothing in the Constitution excuses the behavior of police interfering with reporters conducting their business.

There is a quote from the most recent television adaptation of Battlestar Galactica where Commander Adama says something most relevant to this needless militarization of police power:

“There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

The fact is that anybody with the slightest understanding of history, sociology, economics or group psychology should know this. It’s not that hard to defuse these kinds of situations before they reach a crisis. It simply takes the courage of leaders to meet people where they are and address their concerns without resorting to deploying heavily armed militarized police forces before any violence occurs. As a career military man who has served with our advisers in Iraq, and who has been an adviser on a boarding team keeping the peace on detained Iraqi oil smugglers in 2002, in both cases unarmed and the latter not even having the body armor of the rest of my team, and having been in a number of potentially violent close quarters situations with emotions running high I can safely say that listening and working to de-escalate the situations worked, and that was with Iraqis, not Americans.

When I was going to seminary and was serving in the National Guard, I worked in poor and crime ridden neighborhoods, homeless shelters and inner city public hospitals. I have seen the inequity and the results in broken homes, lives and communities. Likewise, because we were pretty broke and poor in seminary and in the couple years after it we experienced what is now called “profiling.” We lived on the edge of a very affluent suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, for several years we had a series of crappy hand me down used cars that we used to go to school, work and church. Because some of those cars were so crappy looking we are frequently followed by the police, and every couple of months one of us would be pulled over.

I remember watching through the peep hole on my front door when a tactical team raided my across the hall neighbor late one night in 1991 of 1992. I remember being awakened by the crash of the team breaking through the door, and seeing their guns drawn. It scared the crap out of me, and in fact it made me feel less safe and more vulnerable. What if they had raided my house by mistake, like so often happens, I might have been gunned down at the door. You see, we were poor, and obviously poor people should not be in affluent areas, they are bad for property values. But, we often didn’t know where the next pay check, tank of gas, tuition payment, money for medications or or even groceries were coming from.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to not just experience that for a few years, but to have to live that way with little or no hope of the situation ever getting better. But, that being said, I think I can understand the pent up frustration and rage of those who live their whole lives in such conditions, where they are because of their race, the kind of car they drive or the way that they dress, are accosted and interrogated by the police as a matter of course.

To borrow from the movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” The problem is that it’s the police who are not listening and they are being joined by the cacophony of Right Wing politicians, pundits and preachers blaming everyone but themselves and the long term, economic and social policies that have brought this to a head. The scary think is how the pundits on Fox News, at Townhall.com, World Net Daily and other “conservative” and allegedly “Christian” websites and “news” sources incessantly blame the victims of police violence and intimidation, and lack of opportunity and hope rather than looking at the real problems.

Barbara Tuchman was absolutely right. “When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.” We are seeing that in Ferguson and I dare say that if we as a nation do not take action to solve these problems that this is just the beginning, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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